When the Dodgers continue their three-game series against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, they’ll turn to red-hot Chad Billingsley, who has won his last four starts, as they try to gain sole possession of the division’s top spot for the first time since the opening week of the season.
Los Angeles (44-45) defeated the Braves 3-0 in Monday’s series opener behind Kuroda’s one-hitter as Los Angeles won for the sixth time in seven games this month. Kuroda threw seven perfect innings before Mark Teixeira - the only Atlanta baserunner - opened the eighth with a double.
“He was close to perfect. That’s the only way to describe it. You can’t get much closer to being perfect than that,” Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said.
The win moved the Dodgers into a tie for first in the West with idle Arizona. A victory in this game coupled with a Diamondbacks’ loss at Washington on Tuesday would put Los Angeles alone atop the division for the first time since April 4. The Dodgers, who were 3 1/2 games out of first on June 30, are also trying to get back to .500 for the first time since May 30 when they were 27-27.
After losing his first four starts of the season, Billingsley (8-7, 3.12 ERA) has been outstanding lately, allowing six runs while striking out 25 in 26 1-3 innings over his last four outings for a 1.37 ERA.
On Thursday, the right-hander gave up two unearned runs and six hits in eight innings of a 5-2 win over Houston.
“He was as good as he could be,” Torre said of Billingsley, who is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last four starts at Dodger Stadium.
Billingsley’s only career start against the Braves came during his season-opening losing streak. On April 19, he gave up four runs, six hits and walked five with nine strikeouts in five innings of a 4-1 loss at Atlanta.
The Braves (42-48) counter with Jair Jurrjens (8-4, 3.09), who looks to bounce back from his first loss in nearly two months.
After giving up three unearned runs in 21 2-3 innings over his previous three starts, Jurrjens surrendered four runs and eight hits in seven innings of a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday - his first defeat since May 12. The right-hander served up three home runs against the Phillies after giving up only five through 98 innings in his first 16 starts.
This will be Jurrjens’ first career appearance at Dodgers Stadium. In his only start against Los Angeles on April 20, he gave up one run and three hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 6-1 victory.
With only five games left before the All-Star break, the Braves are assured of going into the break under .500 for only the third time in the last 18 seasons. It also happened in 1991 (39-40) and 2006 (40-49).
Atlanta right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who was demoted to Double-A Mississippi on Friday due to his .234 batting average, was recalled Monday, but did not play because he was unable to catch an earlier flight. He is expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday.
Francoeur went 7-for-13 during his three-game stint in the minors, and the Braves hope he can help a sagging offense. Atlanta has lost seven of its last nine game, scoring 13 runs in those defeats.